With 69 points in 71 games, there’s no question that Ryan Johansen had a great rookie year with Portland of the Western Hockey League. However, it’s projections of what he could do at the next level that have caught the Hurricanes’ attention.
The team believes that the 6-foot-3, 194-pound center can be as good as any player in the draft once he gets stronger and has a chance to adapt to the NHL game. At his best, the rapidly-improving pivot can excel at both ends of the rink while using his size to his advantage.
“He’s a guy that we view as having a lot of upside,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He’s a big kid who skates well, has good skill level and plays a two-way game, but is still just scratching the surface on his potential.”
“We have not seen the best of him yet,” added Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald. “He’s a player that’s still maturing physically and is a big, rangy guy who can grow into his frame. He’s a reliable kid who plays very well on both sides of the puck.”
If any of that sounds familiar, it’s more or less the same scouting report once used to describe Eric Staal
and Brandon Sutter
. While other centers at the top of the draft bring their own unique blends of size and skill, Johansen is the prototype of what the Hurricanes look for in the position. If drafted and successfully developed, it’s hard to imagine many other NHL teams being able to boast an equal amount of young talent down the middle.
Still, even with the third-line center job open to competition next season, that may not happen right away. Similar to Staal and Sutter, Johansen would probably need time to develop, especially when one considers that his July 31 birth date makes him one of the younger players in the draft.
He’s also still finding his game, having only reached the status of top prospect this past year. Prior to that, he produced only modest output with Penticton of the British Columbia junior league (a program that produced Hurricanes prospect Zac Dalpe
), posting 17 points in 47 games. Much like Dalpe, he wasn’t even considered an elite junior hockey prospect prior to a significant growth spurt, having checked in at just 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds during his bantam draft year.
“He started that season in the BCHL without a lot of ice time as a younger guy, but by the end of the season he was able to earn a larger role through his hard work,” said MacDonald.
It wasn’t until he grew and arrived in Portland that his numbers took off. On a dynamic and very young line with power winger Nino Niederreiter, himself a candidate to be chosen in the top 10 of this year’s draft, and Brad Ross, an agitator in the Darcy Tucker/Steve Downie mold who could go in the second round, Johansen flourished. Together, that trio proved to be one of the best in all of junior hockey, continuing through a 13-game playoff run in which Johansen notched six goals and 12 assists in 13 games.
While he no doubt benefited from playing with skilled linemates (as most top prospects do), Johansen showed an ability to distribute the puck that made him a key to that success. Fifty-six of his 87 total points this season were assists.
“He creates opportunities for his wingers and consistently competes at his highest level,” said MacDonald.
If he can continue to improve at the rate he’s demonstrated over the last few years, as the Hurricanes believe he can, Johansen could end up being a steal even as high as No. 7.